Management trainings are an important part of most corporate training programs. However, in a VUCA world, organizations are more and more starting to move from a management training to a management learning approach. We have a look at the shortcomings of traditional management learning and introduce a new approach of management learning that puts emphasis on knowledge quality (evidence), applicability in daily business (context) and adaptability (agility). We do this from a knowledge worker's point of view during an product introduction project.
Why corporate management training needs an overhaul.
The availability of technology, scientific progress and economic development are the key drivers from the 20 century industrial towards the 21st century knowledge society. We can already experience the consequences of this transitions in many areas of our life. One of those areas is management training which is the backbone of many corporate training programs.
From management training to management learning.
We at CQ Net - Management skills for everyone! even think that learning understood as a process (Hager 2004) will be the very foundation of growth and progress in the future. This claim is not just our opinion, but strongly supported by evidence into how to maximize the transfer of learning.
Putting ourselves into the shoes of a knowledge worker, we will explore the shortcomings of contemporary management training programs and outline a scenario for a 21st century management learning approach.
Corporate management training from a knowledge worker's point of view.
Jeff is 30 years old and works for a technology multinational. He completed a master degree in business and engineering and got recently promoted to lead a team of software and mechanical engineers. The team of 12 people develops a new plant automation solutions following an agile development approach.
Companies offer a variety of management trainings.
Already during his study and the time with his employer, Jeff got the chance to attend numerous different management trainings in many different areas such as project management, leadership and communication. Only recently he was invited to participate in a change management training as part of a leadership development program provided by his employer. The change management training was implemented as an instructor led one day workshop with presentations followed by group work sessions.
Management trainings do have shortcomings in quality, practicability and effectivity.
As with most of the trainings Jeff participated, the key take away of the trainings was a simple model how change is expected to work and a receipt how it should be applied in practice. Having in mind the ongoing and intensifying discussion in the media about fake news, alternative facts and oversimplification, Jeff started to wond whether all those models and receipts he got trained in really reflect the current state of knowledge or rather the personnel opinion and experience of the trainer.
The future of management learning is based on facts and evidence.
Questions about the quality of knowledge and the evidence behind “facts” will gain massive relevance in mangement education in the future. One fits all models and receipts sold as easy to apply management tools won’t be accepted any more. Instead, scientific studies available for the wider public as Open Access knowledge in combination with knowledge co-produced in Communities of Practice are the future foundation of individual and organisational learning in management.
Change management training versus management reality.
A couple of weeks later Jeff and his team got a reason to celebrate. They pitched for a first pilot installation of their new automation solution and finally won the order. Highly motivated and convinced that this is the start of something bigger, the team gathers to setup a project organisation and define the next steps required to get the project successfully implemented. Going through the project time line, objective and prerequisites Jeff and his team realize that this project is not just about implemented their new plant automation solution. If they want to succeed in the long run, they will have to convince the customer and even part of their own organisation, that their automation solution should replace a well-established automation package used by almost all customer plants.
Taking this into consideration, the team concludes that this project is not just about technology, but even more about change management. Knowing that Jeff had participated in a change management training recently, all eyes move on him. Visibly uncomfortable Jeff points out: Yes, I participated in a change management training last month, but I am afraid that the model we learned won’t work in our complex case. However, let’s try what we can get out of it.”
The future of management learning is context-related and added-value driven.
Management learning that really adds value has to be connected to real live problems, networks, processes, interactions and symbols also known as context (Fenwick 2013). Based on this understanding learning is not merely a process of knowledge acquisition driven by trainers, teachers or consultants. Instead, it is a process of knowledge co-creation with equally important participants and moderators. While knowledge production was reserved to academia in the 20 century industrial society, it will more and more take place at the interface between business and science in the future. This shift is fuelled by the rise of well-educated and critical thinking knowledge workers is driving learning on both ends.
One fits all management models versus agile and adaptive management frameworks.
Jeff and his team have been following an agile approach when developing the new plant automation solution. Instead of setting up a huge project schedule, the team broke the big elephant down into single backlog items with a similar work content and assigned every item to a so called Sprint with a duration of three weeks. After each Sprint the team conducted a lessons learned session and went through the backlog again planning the next Sprint and updating the backlog items in case requirements and expectations changed.
By following this agile approach, the team managed not just to stay within time and budget, but also to implement all major requirement changes that came up during the development project into the final product. Starting from there it was clear for the team that the pilot implementation project has to follow a similar agile approach in order to be successful. Thinking again about the change management training he participated, Jeff wondered why the trainer didn’t adapt an agile learning approach.
The future of management learning is agile, moderated and collaborative.
Agility which refers to speed as well as fast and effortless adaption to an ever changing environment is one of the key concepts in the 21st century knowledge society. Having learning and adaption in its core, agility itself can be considered as learning concept. However, agility can also be applied to management learning. Agile learning is the answer to dynamic knowledge (Hager 2004) which changes too fast to be documented in textbooks and is highly context sensitive. Teams facilitated by a learning moderator co-create knowledge in areas that are specifically relevant to them at a certain point in time (David Beckett and Paul Hager 2002).
Instructor led face to face management trainings versus colaborative, online management learning.
Jeff and his team have always been on the forefront of digital collaboration. With half of his team members located in India and another half in Germany and the UK, most of their team communication is managed via an online platform. Tasks are organized with a digital Kanban board, documents are distributed and shared with a team cloud and their regular Sprint retrospectives are conducted as online meetings. Even though the team faced some challenges with their virtual working approach at the beginning, they quickly adapted and started to appreciate the flexibility of this technology driven way of collaboration.
The future of management learning is location and time independent.
The event character of management training in the industrial society will be substituted by management learning which is understood as a process of engagement, interaction and communication. Facilitated by technology, learning doesn’t rely any more on physical presence or synchronous interaction. Instead, learning will rely on the same technology basis already applied in our social and business life. Team chats, video conferencing, collaborative editing and more and more asynchronous ways of communication such as discussion threads, recorded messages and federated systems will remove time and location barriers. However, technology is no more than a means to an end. It will facilitated but not substitute learning.
How fast and efficiently we learn is going to determine whether we succeed in an increasingly knowledge driven society. This is something knowledge workers like Jeff experience day in and day out. Now it is about people and organizations to provide the right answer to the future of management learning. We at CQ Net are convinced that the future of management learning is agile, collaborative and evidence based.
What do you think? How does the future of management learning look like from your point of view? We are looking forward to hearing your opinion!
References and further reading
David Beckett and Paul Hager (2002): Life, Work and Learning: Practice in postmodernity. New York: Routledge.
Fenwick, Tara (2013): Workplace 'learning' and adult education. Messy objects, blurry maps and making difference. In: RELA 1 (1-2), S. 79–95. DOI: 10.3384/rela.2000-7426.rela0006
Hager, Paul (2004): Lifelong learning in the workplace? Challenges and issues. In: Journal of Workplace Learning 16 (1/2), S. 22–32. DOI: 10.1108/13665620410521486
Markus is a senior management counselor with CQ Net - Management skills at work! He combines more than 15 years hands-on leadership experience from the private sector with in-depth knowledge in the area of people and organizational development. Markus holds a MSc in Organizational Behaviour and a Doctoral Degree in Management.